Will changing domains penalize your SEO? We’ve done it!
Nothing lasts forever, let alone online. Businesses change names, projects evolve, and therefore it is not rare to find yourself in a position where you would like to (or even are forced to) change your website’s domain name, that is the URL of your entire website.
But such a change is scary, especially when we think about SEO and the impact that it will have in organic traffic? Will Google penalize us for switching domains? Will we have to start our SEO efforts again from scratch?
Well, 4 months ago we did just that for one of our clients, and in this article we want to share the results.
Why did we decide to change domains?
There can be a bunch of reasons why you might want to change your domain name. In this case our client had a domain name that was clearly targeting the Spanish market, let’s call it spanishdomain.com.
Over time they had expanded and translated their content to other languages, each of them under a different subdomain, such as: en.spanishdomain.com for Spanish, de.spanishdomain.com for German, etc.
As it turns out, German speaking users had a very hard time pronouncing the spanishdomain.com, and that was becoming a problem for their PR campaigns targeting the German market. So the decision was made to replace de.spanishdomain.com for germandomain.com.
What happened to de.spanishdomain.com?
We switched to the new domain on July 2nd, and as you can see on this Google Search Console graph, traffic to the old URL dropped pretty quickly. In about a couple of weeks the old site was getting zero traffic, as expected.
Did the traffic drop?
Yes, the traffic did drop. This was also expected. Regardless of doing everything by the book (Google’s book that is), and setting up all 301 redirects, informing Google about the change a about a dozen other actions we took to ensure a smooth transition, we knew Google would need some time to process the change.
The following GSC graph shows the evolution of the new germandomain.com over the first 4 months after the migration.
Now, with some basic image manipulation we can overlay the graph from the old domain with the graph from the new domain, adjusting the X and Y axis to have the same scale.
As a result we get the following graph, which clearly shows that for roughly 5 weeks organic traffic to the site dropped, and it dropped hard. Then towards the end of August traffic seems to jump up a bit, and then in mid-September it does so again.
If you don’t work in SEO you could assume that’s just the time it took Google to process the domain change, but if you do work in SEO you might find those dates familiar.
Google Algorithm Updates
That’s right. Over this period there have been a bunch of Google Algorithm updates. These are changes Google makes to their algorithm to improve the quality of search results and try to filter out spammy sites trying to jump ahead in the SERPs by using shady tactics.
As you can see, both traffic jumps match perfectly with Google algorithm updates (marked in red on the graph).
Did traffic fully recover?
Now, the question almost everyone reading this article will probably be waiting for. Did traffic fully recover after the domain change?
We are going to say, YES!
In the graph below (and please excuse our quick photoshop here) also overlays GSC data for the same period of time, but one year earlier (en green).
It’s important to compare traffic to the previous year, and not only to the months before the migration, because this site has seasonal traffic, as do so many others.
Here we can see how after the first update traffic was actually higher than the year before. After the second update it was about the same, and after the third we could say it’s a bit lower, but considering that the traffic was above the previous year for a while, this last drop in traffic probably has more to do with how Google has sees the site after the third update, rather than the domain change itself.
So if you are thinking about changing your website’s domain and are worried about the potential SEO impact this change might have, just know that if you do things right there’s no reason why your organic traffic should not recover.
How long will it take? It’s hard to tell. Some studies say 6 months to a year. In this case study we’ve seen that traffic for this site recovered in just 5 weeks, but we’ve also seen that the 5-week mark coincided with one of Google’s algorithm updates.
One thing is for sure, you need to account for a certain period of transition when traffic will drop, and as we’ve seen in this case study you will probably need to wait for one or two Google updates before reaching pre-migration traffic levels. But with Google updating its algorithm more and more often, one could argue now is the best time to change domains!
This does not mean switching domains isn’t a big deal. It is! and it must be done right or you might end up seeing your traffic drop and never recover. Redirection rules have to be set in place, internal links need to be updated, Google must be notified via propper channels, and a lot more. So if you are not sure what you are doing, make sure to speak professional help, and if you would like us to assist you with your migration, don’t hesitate to reach out to us! 😉